I support some folks at a writing class, and enjoy participating. I sometimes research short poetry forms, to which I can apply the writing prompts. (I think the limiting structure makes it easier. I wouldn't know where to begin with free verse.)
Urchins, et alia:The picture was of a sea anemone hugging (or trying to eat) someone's outstretched finger.
My friend Amalia
Tickles them all 'till the
docent is vexed.
Green sea anemone's
Tickles her back under
Next, we were to draw a picture, then write a poem to go with it. I drew a snow-capped mountain, surrounded by woods, with the sun shining down past clouds. For some reason, I added a flag at the top, which inspired this double dactyl:
Alpine environ is(I was proud of that first rhyme. I was a bit sad when I realized later that "idiosyncrasy" would have scanned better than "peculiarity". However, upon looking back at the Wikipedia page, I see that "idiosyncrasy" has already been used in the example double dactyl, putting it off limits (by the old rule which I am happy to follow).)
Off-limits. I run this
From frozen throne.
Do not forgive me my
My flag is planted here;
Go find your own.
The class then drew all kinds of stuff on the whiteboard (prompting the teacher to remark curiously about the underwater lion), and used the chaotic result as the final writing prompt.
Alien conqueror(One of the guys whom I supported enjoyed these so much that I later taught him how to write them. While looking up six syllable words, we came across "sphygmomanometer". It didn't fit his love poem, but I was determined to someday work it into a double dactyl.)
Wanders to ponder her
Winning the fray.
Summons a dragon to
Come save the day.
If you're just reading this for the double dactyls, skip down to here.
Prompt: "Carried by the wind."
The dandelion seed departsPrompt: "The vortex of the poem."
Upon the west wind's gentle arms,
Reminding me of faithful hearts
That journey off to greener farms.
It needs to find a patch of earth
To start a fresh, new flower's birth.
The friends I love, so far away,
Will make new mem'ries, day by day.
My words flow backward twice a day,Prompt: "Up in smoke."
But when they meet those coming out
They then compete for right-of-way
And spin a verbal waterspout.
My thoughts become a jumbled mess.
This wrong can find but one redress:
I fit the words to rhyming poem;
They flow together, finding home.
A hermit, clad in muddy pantsPrompt: "My dirty secret."
Spends every day amid the trees,
Protecting animals and plants
From their assorted enemies.
This helpful life gives peace of mind
Until, upon the wind, they find
A hint of smoke, a fall of ash:
Their life's work undone in a flash.
If anyone finds out the truth
Of what I did in ninety-four
With Gerald Ford and Doctor Ruth,
They'd lock me up forevermore.
Condense the essence
Of a feeling of winter
Prompts: Lucky, leprechauns, famine, Irish heritage, day off work, claddagh (friendship ring), potato pancakes.
There's a lucky dwarf in my eyes:Prompts: Top of the morning, soda bread, lads and lasses, four-leafed clover, Guinness.
Who are these little, green clad guys?
We're forced to live on potatoes
Without them, it's Lord of the Flies.
They all think they're Irish today.
Then why'd their boys get circumcised?
I'm not going to work today:
I think my boss will be surprised!
I lost our ring in the latkes
I hope my best friend won't realize!
Top o' the morning to you, Jake!Prompts: Pot of gold, green lizards, parade, corned beef, Irish stew.
My Irish brogue is fully fake.
My grandma's Irish soda bread
Is the tastiest thing I bake.
The lads and lasses partying
Keep me from sleep; I'm still awake.
A pocket full of shamrocks here:
My winning streak will never break.
I won't drink water anymore:
My thirst for Guinness can't be slaked.
A pot of gold is fantasy;Prompts: Irish dancing, drinking, harp, green.
My lizards dream of being free.
Parades proceed to celebrate
A holiday that's all party.
They do not feed the cattle corn
To make corned beef. Come on, really?
But no one here has any clue:
The Irish stew's a mystery.
I can't dance at the club:Prompts: Dublin, snakes, genocide. (Wayne (name changed) told us a little about Dublin.)
I got too drunk at the pub.
Why can't I play the harp?
No strings: Aye, there's the rub.
My face is turning green;
I threw up in the tub.
Dublin is a coastal port
In the east, by Wayne's report.
There never were any snakes.
They killed the pagans, not for sport.
Protest England's genocide:
Raise your fist to show support.
BloviationNext assignment: Sum up the above in an American sentence (17 syllables).
Breathtaking, talking, ignoring
Shut up any time.
Waking, changing, sleeping
Spouse is breathtakingly irritated.
Unemployment relaxes me as long as I can tune out my spouse.
For the first, I selected a Cywydd Llosgyrnog. The rest were less structured.
While you are preparing for sleep
You hear an intermittent beep
Around you creep to find it
You give up and turn out the light
Ignore it, praying that you might
Enjoy the night. You mind it.
They're moving off in all imaginable directions.
Fred went southeast, to Hartford. Alice went up at a 45 degree angle and still hasn't come down.
Drew moved inward. You need a magnifying glass to see him.
Uther went off his rocker, and thinks he's a Narnian sleeper agent.
Sally went to the edge and gazed into the abyss.
You go to the place you always thought you would go.
The mosquitoes are so much worse than you heard.
But as long as you stay inside, it's like you never left.
Some have already joined the celestial choir.
The rest have branched off into solo careers.
I saw an ad for one tonight on a flier.
Let's go see them and have a few beers.
With one eye, she regards the dead through a hole in her door. After the police come and go, her parents' ashes will make a fine addition to her collection. She turns to her teddy bear and whispers, "Anything for you, my love."
Little units of energy, heading for the ultimate elsewhere.
Trying to find some synergy, causing interference patterns as they flair.
The accretion sphere, one last hurrah, before the event horizon claims them.
"Knock, knock."Prompt: Write an "A man walks into a bar" joke.
"No, you're supposed to say, 'Who's there?'"
"But I already know who's there!"
"Well, pretend you don't."
"Hello, 911? There's a stranger invading my house."
A man walks into a bar, and notices that an electrical panel on the wall is loose. He asks for a screwdriver with a twist.
Come out of yourself, and we will love you.
Leave your friends and family behind, and we will support you.
Give us $500 per month, will your estate to us, and we will cure all that ails you.
How much time do we have left?Inspired by the class with the underwater lion, we all drew things related to the seasons on the whiteboard, then used those things (e.g., sled, Christmas tree, puddle, present, sun, flower) as prompts.
The bulldozers are getting near.
I don't want to abandon my nest
And leave the eggs that I hold dear.
How much time do we have left?
Even eight years would not be enough
To make me forget our wedding
When you threw up on my dress.
If I lived a hundred years ago,
I'd build a cabin amid woods, grass, and clover
I'd keep cattle and sheep, but see no people
Until the influenza epidemic was over.
I love sitting on my boat, watching the fish swim by.
There's no work to do. We just rock gently with the tide.
It feels like it was thirty years ago when we set out,
and twenty-nine years ago when the crabs at the bottom of the bay finished their meal.
Things are so peaceful since I died.
Sledding down a Christmas treeI asked whether anyone had seen "Rashomon," and explained about one event being told as a different story by different people. So the central idea was that the everyone present had a Halloween party, one of the managers (not present) got drunk, and it ended with a TV getting broken. Whatever story anyone else told, "Here's what really happened." (Names are changed.)
Leaves me just befuddled
I think I would rather be
Jumping in a puddle.
Give a present to the sun
The daffodils have spoken
I never have this much fun
After I've awoken.
Wayne brought Micah several glasses of punch, but neither of them knew that Cara had spiked it with a whole bottle of vodka. Micah got wasted, and wound up puking on Gloria's shoes. I had to mop it up. While Gloria was cleaning up in the bathroom, Camille went over to see if Micah was okay, but she bumped into Wayne. Wayne stumbled and caught himself on the TV stand. As he tried to pull himself up, he slipped on the freshly mopped floor. His feet went out from under him, and he pulled the TV stand over. The TV crashed right through the glass coffee table, and landed face-down on the linoleum. There was glass everywhere. Everyone said it was the best Halloween party ever.(I'm sure this was funnier if you knew all the people.)
Dear Rosalind Franklin:(Someone else wrote to Ringo Starr, giving superlative praise to his singing.)
Thank you for discovering DNA. Your work has led to medical advances that have saved millions of lives, including those of people I know. You'll be pleased to hear that your lab partners got a Nobel Prize after your death, but less pleased to know that they got it by taking credit for your work. People are fixing that now, so rest well.
p.s. I didn't even know that your study of the conversion of coal to graphite was your big claim to fame in life.
Task: Write a letter to a fictional character.
Dear Animal,Task (invented by one of the folks I supported): Write a response from that fictional character.
Please don't tell the others, but you're my favorite muppet. You've got chutzpah, and you always speak your mind. You're a better drummer than Ringo Starr, and almost as good a singer. When you appear on screen, my day brightens and my heart gets lighter. Your rendition of "Danny Boy" with Beaker and Swedish Chef is the best version of that song ever recorded.
I am also gratified by your personal growth: The objectification inherent in crying, "Woman! Woman!" has not been in evidence in the past decade, that I've seen. Keep learning, and improving yourself, and you will never again be chained.
Dear Joe,(Yes, I did the voice when I read it aloud.)
Thank you write me. Letter very tasty.
Like work with Beaker. Swedish Chef full of self and not cooperate off screen. No tell him I say this.
Hungry again. Please write back.
Hello from the Wilsons, folks of 2008!Prompt: "I am trying to sleep through the light."
Happy holidays from all of us. The cats are fine. Sally is studying epidemics in Africa. Shawn will be out of jail soon. Our trip to the mountains of Utah was a blast. The pictures are on the enclosed thumb drive.
We hope you're all doing well. Bury your response under the aspen tree out back, and we'll climb over the rubble of your house to retrieve it.
p.s. Invest in life insurance.
My hands are bound to the chair. The big guy menaces me with a club, while the smartly dressed one shines a mag light in my face.Prompt: "The house is on fire."
"How much do the cops know?"
"Do you mind? I'm trying to sleep."
"Where are the jewels?"
"Seriously, you're not being considerate neighbors. I've had a long day."
I expect this'll be published posthumously.
Little Billy knows the best games. Today, we played with the knobs on the stove, then went to throw big rocks into the pond. Later, we pretended that the sirens were our cop cars as we chased bad drivers. That game lasted quite a while!(With a nod to Tom Recchia's song, "Fucked It Up Again".)
Prompt: Write a sequel or prequel to the previous work.
I introduced myself to little Billy, after stepping around the mounds of freshly turned earth. He seemed really happy, I think because he didn't have adults telling him what to do. I suggested playing cards, but he says he knows even more fun games.Prompt: "We hold each other the whole way down." (Possibly from "Together Til the End" by Quoteaholic?)
I thought a hot air balloon ride would be romantic. Instead, here I am, cowering in the bottom of the basket, while my sweetie comforts me instead of enjoying the view. Only our guide looks disappointed, though. We ask to descend, and cling tightly to each other.Prompt: Reuse any of the previous prompts.
The needle slides into my vein, and the usual burning sensation starts to radiate out. I think I remembered to turn off the oven, but I'm not sure. They tell me this is what's keeping me alive. I made pizza for lunch, and I was concerned with taking the pizza stone out of the oven, so I might have forgotten. I hear that house fires can start that way. The burning sensation reaches my chest, and I can't help screaming in pain. You have to eat the pizza before it gets cold, and cleaning the stone is tough. So I could forgive myself for leaving the oven on.
Task: Create a character. Answer fifteen questions about them.
Name: Sandeep GuptaTask: Make a new character, as different as possible from the first one. Answer the same questions.
Gender: Presents as male, but occasionally wonders.
From where: Parents from Delhi, moved to Edison, NJ just before he was born.
Hobbies: Model rocketry, RC cars
Job: Sales manager for a residential heating oil company
Education: BA in advertising at Stockton University
Family: Parents are outcast from their family, except for one sympathetic aunt (mother's sister). They are now part of the local Hindu community, but they are a bit withdrawn, and do not participate fully.
Friend group: Hangs out with stoners. He's their connection to a gambling den run by someone he knows from work.
Music: Listens to The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly. Also Kishore Kumar because of his parents.
Books: Slightly dystopian science fiction: Stand on Zanzibar, Snow Crash, Neuromancer.
Movies/TV: Hardly watches.
Religion: Practices Hinduism in front of his parents. Otherwise nonreligious.
Socio-economic status: Low, due to his gambling habit.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Cherry Garcia
Name: Ruby Jo WilsonTask: Write a scene in which these characters meet. (Okay, the writing teacher asked me for a full story in which these two become friends, but I think y'all will just have to use your imagination regarding how that happens.)
From: Toccopola, Mississippi. She has never been more than forty miles away.
Hobbies: Baking, riflery
Job: Farmer and housewife
Education: Left middle school to work on the farm. Reads Reader's Digest to learn.
Family: Alcoholic husband, several children and grandchildren living at the farm. Two daughters moved away to Hattiesburg after they married.
Friend group: Quilting club.
Music: Bluegrass, but occasionally listens to Molly Hatchet if nobody's around.
Books: The Catcher in the Rye, and Superfudge
Movies/TV: Her VHS tape of "Gone With The Wind" is almost completely worn out from being watched so many times.
Religion: Southern Baptist. Goes to church every Sunday and holiday.
Socio-economic status: Dirt poor. She's satisfied with her "Sunday best," but it draws pitying looks behind her back.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Neapolitan. She leaves the chocolate for her children, even though it's her favorite part.
"Bobby, go answer the door."
"Ain't nobody at the door, mama."
"There will be in a minute."
In fact, it took three minutes. The stranger had a slow, careful tread up the driveway, clearly trying to minimize the mud that he would have to clean from his black leather shoes.
"Good afternoon, young man. I was wondering if I might use your phone. My car broke down, so I need to find a mechanic."
"You won't find no mechanic workin' today, mister."
"Oh." The stranger paused in apparent uncertainty.
A voice came from upstairs. "You don't need a mechanic. I could hear you runnin' rich from a mile away. We'll find you a new O2 sensor when Bobby's father gets back with the car."
The stranger blinked twice before calling back, "I am most grateful, ma'am. Would it trouble you if I wait inside?"
Prompts included: Relaxing, soothing
VacationPrompts included: Tight vocals
At the spa
The huge bill.
MusicalPrompts included: Dedication
With my friends
DedicatePrompts included: Adventurous, exciting, nostalgia
Your life to
So what if
You get an
Could be worse
You might play
AdventurePrompts included: Tempo, sick beat
In the Alps
IncreasingPrompts included: Enjoyable
Through the song
To keep up
The sick beat
'Till it dies
EnjoyingPrompts included: Predicting the future (in the context of together forever)
Rip the end
Try not to
Half of allPrompts included: Bright sound, twangy, crazy
So let's spend
Not to be
Steel guitarThis time, I challenged myself to write a double dactyl before the song ended. I almost made it: I had to finish one line while the others were reading aloud.
With new strings
Sounds too bright
Might as well
Prompts included: Shoulder
Vampire's physicalPrompts included: Christmas time.
Checkup is risible.
Doctor admits that her
Knowledge falls flat.
Under my shoulder her
Measuring blood pressure.
Good luck with that!
We were writing during an Ozzy Osborne song, so I had to switch back to the tricube if I had any hope of writing at all.
Christmas timePrompts included: (I forget. Probably happiness or something.)
Is great when
Go out for
With no wait
See a film
With your friends
There's no line
Now that we'vePrompts include: Christmas cards, Christmas carol
I'm hooked up
All the time
To pure bliss
Let me starve
Alice andMy suggestion was Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun". Everyone else had been distracted from their prompts by the Ozzy song, so they were assigned to go back to those prompts this time. I went ahead and wrote about "White Wine in the Sun," dropping the tricube in favor of a limerick.
If she can
Man In The
There was a musician named Minchin,
Who fought the temptation to Grinch in
The holiday time.
He'd use it to rhyme
His atheist thoughts without flinchin'.
This was way too open-ended for me. Essentially, I write poems by solving word puzzles, usually of the sort, "Express this idea, with these constraints." I had too few constraints. So I gave myself a challenge: Subvert the repetition by making each line change its meaning upon its repetition. (I see now, after completion, that this is not at all original. Wikipedia says, "Ideally, the meaning of lines shifts when they are repeated although the words remain exactly the same: this can be done by shifting punctuation, punning, or simply recontextualizing." Oh well, I'm still pleased with myself for pulling it off.)
You are my sugar
Bowl with passion
For my commitment
You are my sugar
Daddy. I need money
For my commitment,
My desire. Dear
Daddy. I need money
For a habit, driving
My desire. Dear
Lord above them all. Fit me
For a habit, driving
In the lanes we
Lord above them all. Fit me
To be tied
In the lanes we
Bowl with passion
To be tied
Today, we celebrate Robot Appreciation Day.
The dance in town square echoes the dance in our hearts.
We dance with each other, with the robots, and with our departed friends.
The robots give us their time, their attention, their affection, their desire.
Night falls over the celebration, and we dance harder.
We dance because we love it.
We dance to keep from freezing.
We dance because we must.
I urge my sister to keep up.
She is the fifth person to fall.
If she had been seventh, we could have kept her.
We welcome the new, starlit dancers.
Precise, articulated movements of plastic and steel
Wrapped in a vibrant potpourri of garments.
Scarves for leggings, and pants glued to torsos.
The face of a loved one is projected onto each white, cloth head.
My sister has no more voice.
The price of immortality.
I chose the Clogyrnach for my poetry form. (Nobody there knew how to pronounce Welsh words; your guess is as good as mine.) Either I misread the number of syllables for the fifth line (it should have been three), or I just couldn't fix it in the allotted time.
Black licorice? I hesitate.
Smells anisey. Not bad, but wait.
Taste buds have soured
Spray my plate.
The teacher asked us to write a concrete poem (a poem drawn in the shape of its subject) about our favorite food. I wrote a limerick in the shape of a bowl containing a spoon and some lumpy stuff.
A good chicken tikka masala
Costs upwards of seventeen dolla
Cooked with cardemom
With rice or on naan
I'll eat like a speeding impala
Ralph lived in Menaus, Brazil, and led tours of the Amazon River. Every night, Ralph had to lock the door to the riverboat cabin. But he was often distracted, thinking about financial hardships. He was almost broke, and the owner of the tour boat company had threatened to fire him if he couldn't drum up business, though the tourism industry was shrinking with the global economy. On particularly distracted nights, he would forget to lock the cabin, and he would return in the morning to find that the fridge and all of the snacks had been raided. The police never helped, and the owner made Ralph pay for replacement snacks out of his own pocket.
One night, Ralph was fed up, and slept on the tour boat. Just after midnight, the door handle turned. Ralph clutched his baseball bat and put on his most intimidating face. The door slowly opened. Ralph held perfectly still, and in the moonlight, beheld the silhouette of a tiny owl monkey. The monkey took two steps in, then froze. Ralph slowly lowered his bat to the ground. He sighed, picked up an open pack of crackers, and tossed one to the monkey.
"This crap is no good for you, Macaca." Ralph srawled across the loveseat, looking up at the owl monkey perched on the arm. "Your fruit is right there on the counter."
Macaca barked back and continued nibbling on her chocolate chip cookie.
"I got the keys copied, and I know a guy in Sanatare'm who can repaint the boat. You gotta decide whether you're coming with me."
Macaca stopped nibbling and spent a full minute chittering loudly.
Ralph listened attentively. "No, I can't stay; what's left for me here? At least the divorce is uncontested. I knew my wife wouldn't even do anything with the papers if I mailed them to her. So that's all set." He considered. "But what about you? I haven't seen you leave the boat for more than an hour in the last three weeks."
Macaca handed him the remaining quarter of the cookie.
Ralph took a deep breath, then let it out. "I guess that's set too, then. You've got nothing here either, eh? Fine. You've got 'till tomorrow night to get your stuff in order. If you're on the boat at ten, we leave together."
Once a month, the moon sheds mass by spinning around very fast. That's where we get moon rocks from: They fall to Earth, but because the moon nearly matches the Earth's velocity, they do not hit the atmosphere nearly as fast as meteors typically do. Thus, they reach the ground relatively unharmed, rather than getting vaporized in the stratosphere. Some of these moon rocks are mistaken for coprolites, and are sold online.
The moon is uninhabitable by most Earth creatures, but during the third Apollo mission, an astronaut's pet tegu got loose, and laid a clutch of eggs in a sheltered spot at the bottom of a crater. The tegus hatched, thrived, and multiplied, and now occupy about a quarter of the surface of the moon.
There are no written records of the moon dating back more than ten thousand years. This is because that was when the moon was first caught by Earth in a live capture trap made of magnetic flux and gravitons.
Ever since Zephyr borrowed Apollo's guitar, I haven't been able to sleep whenever the west wind blows. I don't mind hearing strains of Hendrix, King, Clapton, Prince, and so on during the day, but he could really stand to knock off the shredding at night.
Prompt: "The fire is hatching." I decided to interpret this in four different ways, using haiku.
Pine cone in barrens
Germinate in flames
Ashes of phoenix
Blow away, reveal an egg
Firebird hatches soon
Pile of greasy rags
Consumes the basement
Cartoonist draws flames
No shading available
So use cross-hatching
Prompt: A lyric from the song "Set Fire to the Rain". I chose "The games you play".
When you say you like board games, I have a cautious hope. Maybe you're into modern Eurogames, because you like tactics and fun. Maybe you're into Monopoly, because you don't like keeping your friends, or Risk, because you like shattering your illusion of agency.
You say "Talisman". My brain screetches to a halt. When they make a movie of my life, the foley will add a record scratch sound here, followed by silence. "Talisman," I say, to make sure I didn't mishear "Settlers of Catan," an unlikely mishearing to be sure, but still more conceivable than someone enjoying Talisman.
(Yes, they have all of the expansions, and love to play for hours, never finishing a game.)
Prompt: Write about a time when you personally disagreed with someone.
Karen and I occasionally disagree about word pronunciations. This is not surprising, given that much of our vocabulary comes from reading, rather than conversation. Often, a dictionary will list both pronunciations. It turned out that I was right about the "i" in "detritus," but she wasn't there when I looked it up. I felt as though it would be gauche to bring it up out of nowhere after she came home, even though, by the rules of our marriage, I was entitled to do the "I was right" dance.
Prompt: A picture from a children's book, showing a child with an expression of regal disdain striding around a moonlit bedroom with a scepter.
The royal housekeeper brought me the wrong kind of mint. Three hours in the stocks should be appropriate. Tomorrow, I will have my subjects wage war upon the moon. Too long has it defied me, invading my airspace. I've decided that the left side of my face is by far the best side. I must have all of my portraits turned around, before the annual Slime Banquet.